Recently I learned there is such a thing as Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day (on December 8th, to be exact). So, let’s indulge ourselves in a bit of imaginative escapism, and forget for a moment the reality of the times we’re in as I take you back to my childhood in good ole’ post-Communist Poland, just before Christmas.
The town where I’m from feels a lot like Minnesota, but is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range. During the long winters, fur coats were very popular and practical at that time – usually crafted from muskrat, fox or rabbit skins – as it was essential to have an incredibly warm, long coat to keep you cozy as you travelled around by foot or by bus. Not many average citizens owned cars, and if they did, they were only used for special occasions or for traveling far distances – not for running around the city. So it was up to your wardrobe to keep you warm throughout the day.
Upon arrival in my hometown the first thing you’d notice, apart from the freezing temperatures and warmly dressed people, would be the many, many Christmas decorations throughout the bustling brick city. Every street corner, every little shop’s windowsill, every window had something celebrating Christmas cheer. It could be a tinsel, a garland, lights or some kind of ornament dangling in the wind. With a slow falling snow it looked truly MAGICAL.
Part of our cultural Christmas festivities included a meal where we served 12 different dishes representing the 12 disciples around the table with Jesus. This led to a great deal of bustling around to buy all the ingredients required to prepare the food. I remember there were many delicious dishes and foods to enjoy.
One in particular needed some extra prep: the fish dish. Not a big deal, you may think. Well, think again. Usually a whole carp (or often two) would be purchased for this, and that’s where this story turns really interesting. You see, the fish needed to be kept ALIVE until the day of Christmas Eve. I remember this being extra exciting.
We all would bathe or shower the day before the fish was added to our cramped apartment. The tub would then be scrubbed and rinsed thoroughly (as luck would have it, that was my job as a young tween) and filled with cold water halfway to the brim. Then after work, my father and I would walk to the market with an empty tin bucket.
Now, this wasn’t some cute pet shop with nicely lit aquariums…. Instead, the marketplace was outside all year round with many small box looking sheds built closely together, taking up a space roughly the size of a baseball field… it was truly a maze! We would navigate through the market to an open field at the back. This was the side where Christmas trees and fish were sold. There would be lots of people shouting and waving their receipts or money in the air. I remember my dad telling me to stay close to him “because it was dangerous!” It was always dark, and often snowy. People (mostly men) were all crammed around an enormous tub, with their eyes fixed on picking and chasing “their” fish. It often felt like barely controlled chaos.
Once our fish was caught and paid for, we would tread home through snow banks and up a large hill to our apartment with the fish thrashing away in the bucket until we could unceremoniously dump him into his new temporary home… our bathtub. This momentous event usually took place about 4-5 days before Christmas. This meant not one of us could properly shower or take a bath until that thing was out of the tub, and on our table!
I can feel you wondering about this… What did we do when we needed to bathe? Well, during those days leading up to Christmas we would take a somewhat awkward sponge-bath with that thing thrashing around, probably fearing that that was its final hour.
As a little girl, I loved the fish. I often sat on my bathroom floor and talked to it, inevitably giving it a name and growing a bit attached to it. However when I got older, I was simply annoyed that it was taking up my bathtub, and every time I would go into the bathroom to put my makeup on or to wash myself it would be freaking out – ultimately scaring me!
So when The Day finally arrived, after days upon days of preparations and baking, I would listen for my dad to start frying the fish. That was when I knew the tub was free and I could take a long, hot shower! Only to be reminded, “…to BE QUICK, because others need it too!” And really, it truly signified it was finally time to ENJOY all that we had worked for and that God had blessed us with! Christmas Festivities had arrived.
Fast forward to today and my preparations for the holidays definitely look a lot different. Things have gotten easier and faster, and thank God fish comes chopped, frozen and ready to cook! I love preparing my heart as well as my house for the King of Kings. Stories are part of many holiday traditions. So let’s share them with our loved ones, while making new ones for them to tell to their kids.
I hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane! And with that, enjoy your Christmas preparations as we remember and celebrate the arrival of Jesus into this world!
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
Kasha is a mom to two bigs and two littles and is originally from Poland and speaks 3 languages! She enjoys cultural diversity, food and music, and is even more passionate about loving God and loving people.